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You're reading: Soccer oligarchs clash in court in Switzerland

The Court for Arbitration in Sport in Lausanne began hearing the appeal of two leading Ukrainian football teams on Feb. 28 against points deductions and other sanctions imposed by its domestic football federation over an allegedly fixed game four years ago.

The case, which will last for four days, has drawn battle lines between football-loving Ukrainian oligarchs and threatens to embarrass the country ahead of its moment in the spotlight this June when it will co-host Euro 2012 with neighboring Poland.

Ukrainian football has taken strides in recent years, with an influx of cash from rich businessmen funding the rise of teams such as Shakhtar Donetsk, which reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League last year.

But the sport in Ukraine has long been riven by divides between the powerful oligarchs, which led to warnings it could be stripped of Euro 2012 last year amid attempts to oust Football Federation of Ukraine President Hryhoriy Surkis, who is a member of tournament organizer UEFA’s executive committee.

The FFU ruled in August 2010 that a Ukrainian Premier League match between Metalist and Karpaty in 2008 had been fixed. Metalist won the game 4-0.

The FFU says it is punishing the teams involved in the allegedly fixed game — Metalist Kharkiv and Karpaty Lviv — for influencing the result. But both have appealed to CAS, and Metalist has claimed the points deduction is aimed at preventing the club from competing with the country’s top clubs such as Dynamo Kyiv, which is run by Surkis’s brother, Ihor.

Players and officials from the two clubs were fined and banned, and both teams were handed a nine-point penalty for the 2011-2012 season. The sanctions have yet to be implemented pending the CAS hearing, which is scheduled to last four days.

In their decision, FFU officials pointed to a video made a few days after the game that surfaced in Ukrainian media in 2010.

The video, broadcast on TVi channel, allegedly shows Karpaty defender Sergei Lashchenkov telling the club’s honorary president Petro Dyminsky how the game was fixed. A voice, allegedly Lashchenkov’s, says in the recording that he took $110,000 from Yevhen Krasnikov, Metalist’s sporting director and, along with other senior players, talked his teammates into taking $10,000 each to lose the game.

The FFU banned Lashchenkov and Krasnikov from football for life, later reducing the ban to five years.

Lashchenkov, who retired in 2010, has claimed the video was edited and denied throwing the game. A spokesman for Metalist said neither the club nor its officials would comment on the case, citing an agreement between all sides not to comment ahead of the arbitration hearing. A spokesman for the FFU declined to comment for the same reason, as did a spokesman for Karpaty.

The ruling — in particular the points deduction — provoked an angry response from Metalist. It accused the Surkis brothers, who made their millions in electricity distribution and media, of a conspiracy.

Days after the decision was announced, Ukraine soccer coach Myron Markevych, who also coaches Metalist, quit the national team, accusing the FFU of “destroying” Kharkiv soccer. Markevych had been expected to lead Ukraine at Euro 2012.

Yaroslavsky said the decision had been taken personally by FFU president Hryhoriy Surkis and was “illegal and unjust.”

Metalist — a team based in Ukraine’s industrial east and bankrolled by chemicals and construction magnate Oleksandr Yaroslavky — is currently third in the Ukrainian Premier League. It blasted into the Europa League’s round of 16 on Thursday with an 8-1 aggregate win over Salzburg.

The stadiums of Metalist and Karpaty will each host three Euro 2012 matches in the much-anticipated group featuring Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark. All four teams feature in the top 10 of FIFA’s current world rankings.

Metalist is the perennial third-place team in Ukraine, but has closed the gap on Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk in recent years. The deduction of nine points could undermine the club’s push for a place in the Champions League.

Dynamo “doesn’t need rivals in the national championship and competitors for bonus payments in European club tournaments,” a statement by Metalist read. “We have stated more than once the real reasons for the persecution of our club, but our voice is drowned out by direct and barefaced lies.”

Fans and other club owners have long complained of collusion between the Surkis brothers to hand advantages to Dynamo.

A rebellion against Hryhoriy Surkis within the FFU last year was only stopped when UEFA warned it could to suspend Ukraine from European football, which would have threatened its right to co-host Euro 2012.The Surkises say they have done nothing wrong, and that Metalist should concentrate on improving its team.

“Instead of patiently and logically working on strengthening (Metalist’s) game,” Ihor Surkis said in 2010, “Yaroslavsky has started to look for mysterious enemies.”

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